Matt Adams has been the lone consistent bat for St. Louis this season. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
St. Louis got off to a slow start this season, but as every Cubs fan knows, you can’t count out the Cards just because of a few rough weeks. The Cubs’ closest NL Central foe put a .500 April behind them thanks to some dominant starting pitching and a resurgent offense that is climbing the ranks after an uncharacteristically sluggish start. First baseman Matt Adams has poured it on, and Jhonny Peralta has added some much-needed pop to a relatively low-power offense. The team suffered a major blow when cornerstone catcher Yadier Molina was put on the DL, potentially for the remainder of the season, after thumb surgery. Third-year manager Mike Matheny often gets criticized for his odd decisions, particularly his bullpen usage. But despite his alleged missteps, the Cardinals never seem to miss a beat, proving once again to be one of the stronger clubs in the game.
(3.6 RA/G, 4TH IN NL)
Outside of a pair of rough starts against the Cubs, Adam Wainwright has been downright unhittable this season. The Cardinals ace and projected Sunday starter has been as impressive as any arm in baseball and anchors a very strong rotation. Friday’s starter Joe Kelly has been tough in limited action, but he’s dealt with hamstring issues. Lance Lynn has been solid as well. Though inconsistent, Shelby Miller, who will start Saturday, has displayed flashes of the talent that made him one of the game’s top prospects. Michael Wacha was continuing to build upon his late-season breakout in 2013, but a stress reaction in his shoulder will keep him sidelined until at least September. The Cardinals do run into some issues in the bullpen, especially in the base on balls department. Trevor Rosenthal is racking up saves, but his walk rate is approaching uncomfortable levels for a closer. However, right-hander Pat Neshek has been one of the better stories of 2014, posting a 0.68 ERA over 40 innings and a 9.0 K/9 ratio in his first All-Star season. If Jason Motte can return to his 2012 form and fellow fireballer Carlos Martinez can lower his walk total, St. Louis has the arms to end games quickly.
(3.7 RS/G, 14TH IN NL)
With Molina potentially out for the year, the offense lacks the consistent bat that has driven the Cards for years. Adams is doing what he can offensively, and the always-producing and under-the-radar Matt Holliday has also bounced back from a slow start and is providing some power. But his season totals are hardly what’s to be expected from the six-time All Star. Peralta leads the team with 14 home runs, but is hitting just .256 (only he and Adams have double-digit home run totals). Prospect Oscar Taveras and offseason acquisition Peter Bourjos haven’t lived up to their hype this season, while second baseman Kolten Wong has also struggled to find his footing in the major leagues. It wouldn’t be a shock to see St. Louis add a much-needed bat before the trade deadline to continue their playoff push.
In his last 25 games, 2014 All-Star Freddie Freeman has hit .370/.434/.570. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty)
At the season’s outset, it appeared offense would be the Braves’ strength, as their lineup was littered with power bats, but they had numerous question marks in the rotation. As usual in baseball, it’s a good idea to expect the unexpected. The Braves pull into Wrigley Field tied with the Nationals for first place in the NL East chiefly on the backs of that suspect rotation, much of which was thrown together late in the offseason after the team lost two big arms to Tommy John surgery during Spring Training. But with some key players struggling, the offense has taken a step back from 2013, when it ranked fourth in the NL in runs per game. One veteran has already been displaced from his starting position.
(3.6 RA/G, 4th IN NL)
The Braves lost Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery before the season even began, but that hasn’t stopped the staff from being one of the best in the game. Aaron Harang has probably pitched above his head early in the year, but his performance has still been a revelation. Ervin Santana was another late-spring addition, and while he’s been inconsistent, he is still a reliable innings eater. The Cubs will see three young pitchers in this series in lefties Alex Wood and Mike Minor, as well as 2014 All-Star righty Julio Teheran. Friday’s starter, Wood, has shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation this year, but is back in a much more comfortable starting role, where he can use his full assortment of pitches and funky delivery to keep hitters off balance. The usually reliable lefty Minor has struggled since the end of last season and comes into Saturday’s start with a 2-5 record and 4.54 ERA. However, the biggest development this season has been Julio Teheran’s emergence as the staff’s ace. The 22-year-old currently sports an 8-6 record with a 2.57 ERA. The bullpen looks a bit different from previous years, but it’s still strong, with outstanding closer and NL saves leader Craig Kimbrel anchoring the back end.
(3.7 RS/G, 14TH IN NL)
Dan Uggla has never been a batting average guy, but that was always offset by his tremendous power. However, after the second baseman slugged just .362 in 2013 and suffered a continued power outage in 2014, the Braves finally called up youngster Tommy La Stella to take over the keystone in late May. La Stella doesn’t have the power Uggla displayed in his prime, but he has a great approach and can flat out hit. Unfortunately for Atlanta, it isn’t just Uggla struggling at the plate. Chris Johnson has failed to repeat his BABIP-fueled 2013 line of .321/.358/.457; the Upton brothers continue to strike out at an alarming rate; and former top prospect Jason Heyward hasn’t shown the power many expected of him when he first came up. The Braves are also without slugging catcher Evan Gattis for the foreseeable future. This offense was designed to be heavy on power bats, but it’s struggling to hit home runs and hasn’t yet figured out how to play small ball. So far this year, the Braves attack relies heavily on All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman. When he’s hot, the offense will score some runs. If you can hold him down, it struggles.
The Cubs farm system managed a clean sweep of its opponents Sunday, going a perfect 6-0. Here are some highlights from yesterday’s minor league action:
Iowa Cubs (43-38)
2nd Place (-0.5)
Iowa posted its seventh shutout of the season with a 2-0 victory at Colorado Springs.
- LHP Tsuyoshi Wada continued his strong season, going 6.2 scoreless innings, striking out eight and walking just one to improve his record to 9-4.
- 2B Arismendy Alcantara went 2-for-4 with a double (22) to extend his hitting streak to eight games. He’s batting .500 (17-for-34) with four doubles, a triple, two homers, eight RBI and nine runs scored during his streak.
- SS Javier Baez (.239) went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double (14) and one RBI (46).
- RHP Blake Parker (1.17) tossed 1.1 scoreless innings of relief to earn his 17th save of the season.
Tennessee Smokies (8-3)
1st Place (+1.0)
Tennessee scored four runs in the eighth inning to beat visiting Montgomery, 6-1.
- RHP Dae-Eun Rhee struck out a season-high 10 hitters over seven innings, giving up one earned run and walking none.
- CF Jae-Hoon Ha (.209) went 1-for-5 with a game-high three RBI (20).
- DH Charlie Cutler (.329) and C Luis Flores (.333) each recorded three hits apiece.
Daytona Cubs (8-3)
T-1st Place (–)
After giving up three runs in the top of the 11th, Daytona came back and scored four in the bottom of the frame for a comeback, 9-8 win over Lakeland.
- DH Dan Vogelbach (.279) went 2-for-5 with a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the 11th inning.
- LF Bijan Rademacher (.288) went 1-for-5 with a team-high three RBI (27).
- SS Marco Hernandez (.285) and CF Albert Almora (.259) each had two hits and two RBI.
- RHP Yao-Lin Wang (1-5, 6.26) earned the win despite allowing three runs on two hits in the 11th.
Kane County Cougars (8-2)
1st Place (+1.0)
Kane County won its fourth-straight game, beating host Beloit, 9-7.
- C Cael Brockmeyer (.311) hit a two-run triple in the ninth to complete a cycle and break a 7-7 tie. He finished 4-for-5 with three runs scored, a two run homer and four RBI (18).
- CF Jacob Hannemann (.262) went 2-for-5 with three RBI (34) and a fourth-inning, solo home run.
- RF Yasiel Balaguert (.245) and LF Trey Martin (.237) each recorded two hits apiece.
- RHP Corbin Hoffner (2-1, 4.05) picked up the win, while RHP Tyler Bremer (2.57) earned his 10th save.
Boise Hawks (7-10)
4th Place (-4.0)
Boise used a five-run second inning to roll past host Tri-City, 6-2.
- RHP Trevor Graham picked up the win, giving up no earned runs over six innings and striking out four.
- Jeffrey Baez (.185) went 1-for-5 with a second-inning two-run homer.
- 1B Dan Canela (.304) recorded a game-high four hits, going 4-for-5 with a run scored and two doubles (4).
- LHP Sam Wilson (0.00) tossed two scoreless innings of relief to earn his first save of the year.
Mesa Cubs (5-3)
1st Place (+1.0)
Mesa scored a run in the bottom of the ninth inning on a Bryant Flete sacrifice fly for a 5-4 walk-off win over the AZL Giants.
- RF Jorge Soler (.583) went 1-for-3 with a run scored.
- DH Kevonte Mitchell (.750) went 3-for-4 with two runs scored.
- RHP Jeferson Mejia (2-0, 0.00) allowed two unearned runs in four innings of relief to earn the win.
I’m a sucker for nostalgia, which is one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed this season at Wrigley Field so much. I have been looking forward to Wrigley’s 100th birthday for a few years now because I knew it would give Vine Line a chance to really delve into the organization’s history.
We not only produce the magazine, but we also create the scorecards sold at the Friendly Confines during every home series. To tie in with the Cubs’ 10 Decades, 10 Homestands promotion, we’ve been populating the covers with photos specific to the years being celebrated—which means we’ve spent countless hours searching the team’s photo archives for just the right shots.
When the Yankees were in town during the 1930s homestand, we found a picture from the 1932 World Series between the North Siders and the Bronx Bombers. When the Cubs were honoring the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during the 1940s series, we found a photo of the league’s tryouts, which were held at Wrigley Field in 1943.
In the interest of full disclosure, my home is littered with black-and-white photographs of everything from the Chicago Theater to my relatives during WWII to the Cubs at Spring Training on Catalina Island. I love this stuff, and I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t spent a few evenings looking through the photo archives just for fun.
In other words, this is probably something I shouldn’t get paid to do (though I probably don’t need to spread that news around).
Some of the things that caught my eye when we were planning our 2014 content for the magazine last year were the memorable program and scorecard covers the team used from the 1930s through the 1960s. We liked them so much, we decided to dedicate the valuable back page of the magazine (The Score) to featuring some of the best of the best this season.
When we wanted to learn more about the scorecards, we went to that amazing wellspring of arcane Cubs information from every era, team historian Ed Hartig, who has been an invaluable resource for all the historical content we’ve published this year. It turns out, for decades, most of the scorecard designs were the brainchild of one man, Otis Shepard, former art director for the William Wrigley Jr. Co. and longtime member of the Cubs board of directors. For our monthly Wrigley 100 feature, we look into the life and career of Shepard and how he came to design some of the Cubs’ most iconic images.
It’s also the July issue, which means it’s almost time for the Midsummer Classic. For our annual All-Star issue, we set out to find the most valuable Cubs player in each of Wrigley Field’s 10 decades. To do this, we used the stats website Fangraphs to compile the highest Wins Above Replacement totals for each decade. WAR essentially takes all of a player’s offensive and defensive efforts and outputs them into a single number designed to measure how many wins he provides over an average replacement player. There are definitely some names you would expect (I don’t think we could have a list like this without Mr. Cub), but there are also a few surprises (Rick Reuschel, anyone?).
Finally, Vine Line had a dream opportunity in May when the Yankees came to town. We worked with Yankees Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alfred Santasiere III to bring together two of the greatest shortstops the game has ever seen: Hall of Famer Ernie Banks and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter. The legendary players sat down for a tête-à-tête that is every baseball fan’s dream come true.
Of course, we’re good for more than just history lessons. Follow us on Twitter at @cubsvineline for the best of the Cubs past, present and future.
And let’s keep that whole “shouldn’t get paid” thing between us.
Adam LaRoche, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rondon (left to right) have all been big contributors this season for the Nationals. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Nearly everyone picked the Nationals to run away with the NL East in 2014, but it has been a tightly bunched division in the early going, with the Nats just a game up on Atlanta as Thursday’s play began. Washington’s offense has been solid, and their pitching is about as good as it gets in the National League. Unfortunately, one of the bigger stories for the team thus far has been new manager Matt Williams calling out Bryce Harper for his apparent lack of hustle on an early-season ground out. Harper, who is known for his all-out, but often reckless effort, took the criticism in stride. Shortly thereafter, he hurt his thumb stretching a double into a triple, and he has missed a large portion of the season. He is due to return soon, though he’ll still miss the Cubs series.
(2nd in NL, 3.5 RA/G)
The Nats have the makings of a dominating rotation, but the arms didn’t quite perform to expectations in the early going. Former No. 1 pick Stephen Strasburg is getting plenty of strikeouts and isn’t walking many, but he’s been very unlucky, with a ridiculous .356 BABIP resulting in a 3.70 ERA. University of Illinois product and Friday’s starter Tanner Roark is having a solid season (7-4, 2.79 ERA), while Saturday’s Game 1 starter Gio Gonzalez hasn’t yet lived up to his career numbers. Offseason acquisition and Thursday’s starter Doug Fister has been the addition everyone expected after coming back from injury in early May. Since his return, he has posted a 6-2 record with a 2.65 ERA. The bullpen is led by closer Rafael Soriano, who has converted 18 of 20 saves this season. Blake Treinen will start Game 2 of the doubleheader Saturday night.
(8th IN NL, 4.0 RS/G)
Harper’s loss was costly, especially considering no one has really stepped up in his absence. Veterans Adam LaRoche and Jayson Werth have been strong, while Denard Span is bouncing back nicely after a rough 2013 season. His return has allowed the Nats to keep the offense clicking, even after losing Ryan Zimmerman for several weeks to a thumb injury. Danny Espinosa has stepped into a full-time role at second base, and the hot-hitting Anthony Rendon has moved back to his college position at third. The now healthy Zimmerman has looked solid since his move to the outfield, but it will be interesting to see what the Nats do with him once Harper comes off the DL.
Outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Gregory Polanco have made an impact for Pitssburgh. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
After ending 20 years of below-.500 futility and making a playoff appearance in 2013, it appeared the Pirates were a team on the rise. A poor April put the Bucs in a bit of a hole, one they’ve slowly tried to dig out of. This year, pitching has been subpar while the bats have only recently started to wake up. It’s too early to draw conclusions as there’s plenty of baseball still to be played, but the loss of A.J. Burnett from the rotation and some rough starts from key offensive contributors have led to serious struggles. Still, don’t count Pittsburgh out yet, as it does have some talented youngsters and an exciting roster.
(12TH IN NL, 4.3 RA/G)
The Pirates’ top two starters, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole, started off relatively strong, but oblique and shoulder fatigue issues, respectively, currently leave both on the DL. Cole has a below-average strikeout rate, but the former top draft pick is just scratching the surface of his immense talent. Their absence puts the burden squarely on the shoulders of veteran and Friday’s starter Charlie Morton as well as young right-handers Vance Worley and Brandon Cumpton. In 14 starts this season, Morton’s had a fine season, posting a 3.09 ERA in 87.1 innings. Saturday’s starter Worley has only pitched seven major league innings this year, but has a 1.20 ERA in two career starts against the Cubs, though Sunday’s starter Cumpton has struggled in 2014. The bullpen continues to be a strength, even with closer Jason Grilli experiencing some bumps.
(6TH IN NL, 4.1 RS/G)
Early on, defending NL MVP Andrew McCutchen has continued to look every bit the franchise-making superstar—but he was the only one providing any offense. Starling Marte regressed from his great 2013 season, and while Pedro Alvarez is again hitting for power, his low batting average and OBP drive down his value. Neil Walker was having a fine season until he had to undergo an appendectomy. There’s no timetable on his return. The Pirates have already made some significant moves to help kick-start the struggling bats, acquiring first baseman Ike Davis from the Mets and bringing up top prospect Gregory Polanco, who’s had success at the dish in a very small sample size. The hope is that Marte turns things around, Alvarez starts making more contact, and Polanco can make a big impact on the major league front.
Giancarlo Stanton is leading the NL with 17 homers and 53 RBI. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
After dropping 100 games last season, the upstart Marlins pull into Wrigley Field 32-28 and in a surprising tie for first place with the Braves in the NL East. The Fish have one of the most exciting young players in the game in behemoth Giancarlo Stanton. He’s a can’t-miss batting practice attraction who delivers unmatched power, and he’s putting up MVP-like numbers in the early going. But the Marlins aren’t just the Stanton show. The team has come out swinging in 2014, scoring more runs than any other offense this side of the Rockies. Pair that with a group of young pitchers with plenty of upside, and the Marlins aren’t far off from making a run at relevance. The good news for the Cubs is the Fish have proven to be a much better team at home than they are on the road.
(11TH IN NL, 4.2 RA/G)
The Marlins took a big hit early this season when they lost Cuban sensation Jose Fernandez for the year following Tommy John Surgery. His passion and performance made every one of his starts must-see baseball. They immediately moved to sign veteran Randy Wolf (1-1, 3.38 ERA), who the Cubs will face on Saturday. He also has a pair of teammates who aren’t too shabby. Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.24 ERA), who the Cubs will face Friday, is one of the hardest throwers in the game and is getting results to match the stuff. Sunday’s starter, Henderson Alvarez (3-3, 2.62 ERA) relies more on command than velocity, but his excellent ERA puts him right up there with any strikeout artist. The fifth starter and the bullpen, outside of closer Steve Cishek, are where the Marlins’ troubles lie. They’ll need more out of their pitching if they want to remain competitive all season long.
(2ND IN NL, 4.6 RS/G)
The Marlins began the season hitting the cover off the ball, especially at Marlins Park. Stanton is the leader on offense, and he’s proving to be one of the game’s best players when healthy. He comes into the series hitting .314/.407/.614 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and is leading the NL with 17 homers and 53 RBI. But he is hardly alone. The Marlins’ big free-agent addition, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, has been solid early on, though his numbers have dropped in the last month. Veteran Casey McGehee has also looked good (.298/.355/.382), but it remains to be seen if he can keep it up for the entire season. Joining Stanton in the outfield are Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich, both very young (23 and 22, respectively) and delivering with the bat. If the youth can continue to perform, the Marlins’ offense could turn out to be one of the biggest surprises in baseball.
Bartolo Colon has brought some veteran leadership to a young Mets rotation. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Mets pulled into June just a few games off the pace in a relatively weak NL East. While their impressive start was a surprise to many, the front office did add a pair of seasoned veterans in Bartolo Colon and Curtis Granderson to try and jump-start the team’s window of contention. Pair that with face of the franchise David Wright and some talented young pitchers in Dillon Gee, Jon Niese, Zach Wheeler and Matt Harvey (out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery), and New York has an interesting core to work with going forward. While it appears the Mets have performed better than their numbers might suggest, there are some signs their early-season success could be maintained if a few veterans start performing up to their career norms.
(8TH IN NL, 4.0 RA/G)
The Mets’ starting pitching, which pairs youth with ageless veteran Colon, has been a strength. Colon walks very few batters, and his strikeout rate is actually up this season, but he’s giving up more home runs than usual. If he can get that number back to normal levels, the 42-year-old could be part of a very strong rotation that includes solid young arms in Gee, Niese and Wheeler. Gee has recently been on the DL with a strained right lat, but former Red Sox bust Daisuke Matsuzaka has actually been solid in the rotation. If someone falters, stud prospect Noah Syndergaard is waiting in the wings. The bullpen, on the other hand, is a big question mark. Last year’s closer Bobby Parnell lasted only one inning in 2014 before tearing his UCL. The Mets are hoping a mix of veterans and untried youth can get them through the later innings of close games, with Jenrry Mejia serving as the team’s closer of late.
(6TH IN NL, 4.1 RS/G)
Through the season’s first two months, the Mets got almost nothing out of veteran leader Granderson, while Wright seems to have shaken off his slow start in the last few weeks. The duo’s original struggles at the plate made the Mets’ solid start on offense look all the more surprising. As a team, they’re 8th in the NL in OBP (which usually aligns very closely with runs scored) but last in slugging. So the question is, what will change going forward? Do the individual performances start to improve, or does the unsustainable run scoring catch up with them? It’s unlikely Granderson will struggle this much all season, so it’s possible the Mets will continue to score runs at their solid early-season rate.
Masahiro Tanaka has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season. The Cubs will face the rookie for the second time Tuesday. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The Yankees failed to make the playoffs for only the second time in the last 19 seasons in 2013, leading the Bronx Bombers to do what they do best—spend money. The New Yorkers revamped their offense by doling out big-money, multiyear contracts to several players in the offseason and outbid the Cubs, among others, for the services of Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka. Despite injuries to an aging team (the average age is over 33) and holes in the pitching staff and infield, the Yanks find themselves in their familiar spot atop the always difficult AL East.
4.6 Runs Allowed Per Game, 7th in AL
Tanaka is not only the talk of the high-priced Yankees rotation, but of the entire league. The 25-year-old received a 7-year/$155 million deal from the club before he had thrown a pitch in the majors, and through the first quarter of the season, he looks to be worth every penny, sporting a 6-0 record with a 2.17 ERA and 10.2 K/9 over 58 innings. He is currently carrying a pitching staff littered with injuries. Veteran ace CC Sabathia isn’t expected back for at least another month with knee issues, Michael Pineda (who has already been suspended this season for sporting a foreign substance on his neck) went on the DL with shoulder soreness, and young right-hander Ivan Nova was lost to Tommy John surgery. Hiroki Kuroda remains a cog in the rotation, though his streak of years with a sub-4.00 ERA might be in jeopardy as he enters his age 39 season. David Robertson is doing his best Mariano Rivera impression in the back end of the bullpen, having racked up eight saves in 11.2 innings and fanning 11.6 batters per nine.
4.8 Runs Scored Per Game, 8th in AL
On paper, the offense looks to be the Yankees’ primary strength. The additions of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran were supposed to give the team a huge boost offensively. But the reality is the 27-time champs are getting the most production out of guys who are past their primes or are unproven commodities. The 26-year-old Yangervis Solarte has been a big help at third, replacing Alex Rodriguez, who is sitting out the season with a PED suspension. Solarte’s .313/.387/.500 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line and five homers have been a huge boost to an offense lacking pop. First baseman Mark Teixeira, who finally seems to be healthy, has provided some unexpected and much-needed power to the heart of the order, putting up nine homers and a .265/.370.549 line at age 34. Originally pegged as the team’s fourth outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki still knows how to hit. He is spelling Beltran, who is currently on the DL with elbow inflammation. Suzuki’s fine play has also allowed former Cub Alfonso Soriano to DH half the time. Brett Gardner continues to be a solid offensive threat, hitting .297 and stealing 10 bases. The offense could be even more potent if McCann was hitting to the back of his baseball card. His season average of .225 is 50 points lower than his career mark. The Cubs will also get a chance to say goodbye to Yanks captain Derek Jeter, who will play his fourth and fifth career games at the Friendly Confines this week. Though his production is down from his career norms, the 39-year-old future Hall of Famer is still the heart and soul of the team.
Carlos Gomez has been a key part of the Brewers’ success this season. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
No one expected much of the Brewers this season, but they got off to the fastest start in baseball and haven’t looked back. Coming into this series with the Cubs, Milwaukee has the second-best record in the National League (a half game behind the Giants), and they are five games up on St. Louis in what was supposed to be a very competitive NL Central. The Brewers stayed relatively quiet for most of the offseason, but made a splash late in January when they signed former Cubs pitcher Matt Garza to a four-year, $52 million deal. The addition of Garza, who adds some upside to a solid rotation, makes Milwaukee an intriguing team in an already deep NL Central. While there is certainly potential in both the staff and the offense, the Brewers have little depth. They’ll also need several players who had surprising seasons in 2013 to continue to progress this year if they hope to remain in contention all season long. Ryan Braun, returning from a 62-game PED suspension and a load of bad publicity, has continued to crush the ball.
PITCHING (3.6 Runs Allowed Per Game, 6th in NL)
Garza has remained healthy, but his ERA is nearing 5.00, and his production isn’t quite what the organization had in mind when they signed him to the big-money deal. The good news for the Brewers is that Kyle Lohse has continued to be solid as the club’s ace. He has a 4-1 record, a 2.75 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP through eight starts. While Yovani Gallardo may never live up to the promise he displayed early in his career, he gives Milwaukee a third known commodity. He’s throwing better than he has in a while, with a 3.07 ERA in nine starts. Marco Estrada looks to be coming into his own a little later in his career. The 30-year-old righty, who has posted back-to-back seasons with a sub-4.00 ERA, has taken another step forward this year, posting a 3.28 ERA in eight starts. Veteran Francisco Rodriguez has been huge in the back end of ballgames, leading the league in saves while keeping base runners to a minimum.
HITTING (3.9 Runs Scored Per Game, 5th in NL)
The offense has a chance to continue it’s high-octane output, but the Brew Crew needs several players to build off breakout 2013 seasons. Carlos Gomez has continued his 2013 power surge, ranking toward the top of the NL in home runs while still possessing game-changing speed. Braun has picked up right where he left off, hitting .316 with six homers through the first quarter of the season. The only major stumble has come from shortstop Jean Segura, who’s hitting .248 on the year and has gotten caught stealing a league-best five times already. The unheralded Jonathan Lucroy has been a key to the offense, batting .304/.377/.437 (AVG/OBP/SLG), exceptional numbers from a backstop. Though Mark Reynolds doesn’t get on base a ton, his eight homers negate a lot of his statistical weaknesses.